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Heads of global organizations issue joint call for vaccine equality

Published Jun 02, 2021 11:00 am

World leaders must make a "new commitment" to a more equal distribution of coronavirus vaccines to bring the pandemic under control, the heads of four major global organizations said Tuesday.

Their joint rallying cry, and calls for tens of billions of dollars more in funding, comes as concerns rise that vaccine inequality between wealthy and poor nations is further complicating and prolonging a pandemic that has already killed more than 3.5 million people globally.

In their appeal, the heads of the World Health Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization blamed the gap in vaccination programs for the emergence of virus variants that have fuelled fresh outbreaks in the developing world.

"It has become abundantly clear that there will be no broad-based recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic without an end to the health crisis," they said in a joint op-ed in the Washington Post. "Access to vaccination is key to both."

They called on the Group of Seven wealthiest economies to agree on a "stepped-up coordinated strategy, backed by new financing, to vaccinate the world" at their next meeting in the United Kingdom later this month.

The leaders of the four organizations, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, also urged the G7 countries to fund a $50-billion plan already proposed by the IMF to help even out those inequities and accelerate the end of the pandemic.

The aim is to vaccinate at least 40% of the global population by the end of the year, and at least 60 percent by the end of next year, so as to enable a lasting economic recovery.

The cash injections "would help us dramatically scale up the production of diagnostics, treatments, oxygen, medical equipment and vaccines for equitable distribution", WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

'Two-track pandemic'
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva stressed that the issue was not just about health.

"We are deeply concerned because an increasingly two-track pandemic is causing a two-track economic recovery -- with negative consequences for all countries," she told reporters.

"Our data shows that, in the near term, vaccinating the world is the most effective way to boost global output... Vaccine policy is economic policy."

The investments requested were small in comparison to the massive returns, she insisted.

"The $50 billion price-tag is dwarfed by the estimated $9.0 trillion to be gained by the increase in economic activity by 2025, making it the best public investment ever."

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala agreed, urging countries to make the investments needed "to save lives and pick up those trillion-dollar bills".

She also called for cooperation to remove trade restrictions hampering the movement of vaccines and the raw materials needed to produced them, and production capacity to be dramatically scaled up through technology transfer.

World Bank chief David Malpass picked up the same issue.

"It is vital that we speed up the supply chain," he said, stressing the need to "shorten the time from the manufacturing of the vaccine to shots in arms.

"At present, too many doses are waiting to be allocated."

Repeated appeals
Already in March, the WHO spoke out about what it said was "grotesque" vaccine inequality.

In May, Tedros appealed to vaccine-wealthy nations to refrain from giving shots to children and adolescents and instead donate those doses to other nations.

The Covax vaccine-sharing facility aims to provide equitable access to doses around the world, particularly in poorer countries.

But wealthy countries effectively elbowed out Covax in the early stages of procurement.

They struck their own deals with drug manufacturers, taking the overwhelming share of the more than 1.8 billion doses of vaccine already been injected worldwide.

The G7 member countries, which met in central London under tight coronavirus restrictions last month, committed to financially support Covax.

But there was no immediate announcement on fresh funding to improve access to vaccines, despite repeated calls for the group to do more to help poorer countries. (AFP)

(Banner photo by KJ Rosales / The Philippine Star)